The Virginia Tech men's basketball team traveled to Chestnut Hill to play Boston College late Wednesday night, and things didn't start the way Buzz Williams and company intended.
The normally hot-shooting Hokies (20th in the country in three-point percentage) started things off with a barrage of bricks. Tech missed 14 of their first 17 shots from deep in a clunky first half that looked to be played in front of roughly 90 people.
But after they shook off the malaise, William's team found success on both sides of the ball in a nice second half that should have lead to a comfortable victory. But unfortunately for Buzz, it didn't end the way he intended either.
With 1:42 left in the game, senior Justin Bibbs hit a dagger triple to put Tech up seven. BC's Ky Bowman then missed a layup, which sent Chris Clarke sprinting towards the other end looking for an exclamation point with 62 seconds to go. And in a way, he really did end regulation with some excitement:
Oh yeah. That's five straight free throws attempted and sunk by Eagles guard Jerome Robinson, who was fouled shooting a three and then awarded two more after a technical foul on Clarke. It's basically a clinic on how to throw a cozy seven point cushion into a wood chipper.
The game went into overtime, and after a few brief minutes of walking around like a punch drunk boxer in the moments after taking a right hook to the eye socket, the Hokies took control again. They had been the better team all night, and it played out in the final score.
Tech 85, BC 80.
It's one of those nightmarish games on the road where a victory, however it may come, is great. But no one will ever want to talk about it again. Which is a shame, because outside of Clarke's brief descent into insanity, Tech did some really nice things.
But first thing's first: don't complain about the technical. Well, scratch that. You can complain all you want, but just know that however anyone may feel about Ted Valentine or the conspicuous timing of the call, it's completely on Clarke.
He's an upperclassman, a leader, and an all-around important member of the squad, and he needed to recognize the situation in the moment. It doesn't matter if he thought he got hacked going to the hoop (he probably did), complaining in any way won't help secure a win. And it especially won't secure a win when the jawing comes at the cost of running back on defense, which was the reason Robinson was fouled shooting a three in the first place.
But Clarke being glued to the bench during the extra period meant extended big boy minutes for Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who responded beautifully. The freshman scored on a fast break early on, and splashed a Sam Cassell-ian three with things tied at 78.
Justin Robinson's shooting was off (3-12 from the field, 1-7 from deep, I'm starting to worry if he's losing his legs a bit from the heavy workload), but he was essential everywhere else. He ran the offense with precision and found open shooters, and though he finished with 12 assists, he could have had closer to 20 due to the poor shooting early on.
Bibbs and Kerry Blackshear both played their parts. The former hitting a series of crucial shots when they needed him most, and the latter leading the way with a quiet 20 point, eight rebound outing.
The Hokies are back to over .500 in conference and ended up going 6-4 in January—something most of us would have taken after that Syracuse debacle on New Year's Eve. Up next? Miami, a tough test full of talented players who (for whatever it's worth) Joe Lunardi has as a 6-seed in his current bracket.
It's a brutal road ahead. But as long as the Hokies don't make it a habit to hand out five free points every night, things should get very interesting.
A few quick thoughts
BC was really smart to come out in a trap defense early in the game. Robinson and Blackshear had a lot of success with the high pick-and-roll coming into Chestnut Hill, and the Eagles wanted to do something to disrupt it. And it worked for quite a while at the start of the first half (and not quite as well at the start of the second), as Tech tried to get used to it.
But in what can only be seen as a positive, the trap was handled and then played right into Buzz's hands. Hokie shooters feast on corner threes, and once the team began to pass around the zone they started to find Ahmed Hill and Bibbs wide open in the corner. It took awhile for the shots to fall (I blame the crypt-like environment), but once they did the Eagles didn't have a chance.
It's funny to think about it, but at almost this exact time last year Tech beat BC to improve to 5-4 in the ACC. They're in the same position as they were when they made the NCAA Tournament, yet most people don't feel as good about this squad's chances.
To me, the path to March Madness is simple: beat NC State at home next Wednesday, beat Georgia Tech on the road on the 17th. And then win two home games among the remaining group of Miami/Clemson/Louisville/Duke. A tough task, but very doable.
Finally, we're currently filing a missing persons report for a certain assistant coach's facial hair. If you see it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.